Friday, August 26, 2016

Do Aliens Live Here?

The short answer is that we have no idea. But the more intriguing answer is that they could - and we might even be able get there with the right kind of spacecraft. Astronomers have recently announced the discovery of a rocky planet in orbit around Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system. What's more, this planet lies in the star's habitable zone, with expected surface temperatures that would allow liquid water to be present.

So if aliens have visited Earth, is this their home world? Statistically it's a good guess, since unlike in science fiction television and movies, interstellar travel is incredibly difficult and consumes vast amounts of energy. From a purely statistical standpoint, we can assume that it's far more likely for visiting aliens to come from another system close by. Of course, whether or not they've visited at all is still debated.

Researchers have long looked to Alpha Centauri for study. Now, they want us to go there.

Programs like Mission Centaur intend to design and build a space mission with a small telescope to point at the star system. It would look for exoplanets by imaging or other techniques that could find more of them around these three stars.

Given how long it took us to confirm Proxima b and the fact that the researchers encountered a puzzling extra signal in some of their data and models, it's entirely possible that there are more planets to be found.

It is also the target of the Starshot project, which aims to create and send ultra-fast light-driven nanocraft that would reach the system 20 years after launch and beam home images. This is on the list of Breakthrough initiatives, an effort whose board includes Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ignorance is not a Virtue

A couple days ago, The Independent reported that an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect based in New York has banned women from attending universities. The justification for the ban is that university education is somehow dangerous for women, which really appears to be just as dumb as it sounds.

The strict Satmar sect issued the decree, seen by The Independent, warning that university education for women is “dangerous”. Written in Yiddish, the decree warns: “It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah.

“We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.

"We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.” The decree was issued from the sect’s base in New York and will apply to followers of the faith group around the world.

There's a line in Liber Librae, a text that first showed up in the original Golden Dawn order and was later adapted by Aleister Crowley and published in The Equinox. It goes like this:

The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and willfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Joshua Harris is the Devil

Yeah, I know, that headline is totally hyperbolic; I don't believe that anybody is literally the Devil and never have. But hear me out.

Joshua Harris is the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a bestselling book that popularized Christian "purity culture" in the 1990s. Harris' book rejected the concept of dating entirely in favor of the outdated concept of "courtship," and recommended that couples not even kiss (!) before marriage. The book was very popular with overprotective Christian parents, and many Evangelical children were raised with its warped approach to sexuality.

Slate recently published an article about Harris, and how he is in the process of rethinking the impact of his book. He solicits comments regarding the book on his website, and is grappling with statements from many individuals who feel that they were irrevocably harmed by growing up with the worldview it espouses.

Harris was 21 years old when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He was a virgin who had been home-schooled his whole life—an unusual profile for the author of a book proposing “a new attitude toward romance and relationships,” as the subtitle put it. He married at 23 and later served as the pastor of an evangelical megachurch in Maryland for more than a decade.

Over the years he wrote more books about dating and marriage, including Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Nineteen years after I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he is the father of three kids—two of them teenagers—and he is pursuing formal education for the first time in his life. And these days, he’s having very mixed feelings about the book that turned him into a Christian celebrity.

“Part of the reason this has been so hard for me is that I have so much of my identity tied up in these books. It’s what I’m known for,” Harris told me recently from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he moved his family last year to enroll in a graduate program at evangelical Regent College. “It’s like, well, crap, is the biggest thing I’ve done in my life this really huge mistake?”

So it took him this long to realize that a 21-year-old with little social or dating experience might have gotten something wrong about relationships? Seriously, that should be a no-brainer. Based on his acceptance of the purity culture interpretation of scripture, he doesn't even seem to have known his Bible particularly well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Breaking Rocks for Good Fortune

While there are not very many ceremonial magicians out there, folk magick is another thing entirely. Many people of all sorts of different religious traditions perform simple rituals during the course of their daily lives that certainly fit the description of magick. Last week, Huffington Post covered the Bolivian Catholic practice of breaking rocks in order to obtain good fortune and prosperity.

The rite is performed to call for the blessing of the Virgin of Urkupina. Legend has it that Virgin Mary appeared to a shepherd girl to instruct her to take rocks from this dried river that miraculously turned into silver when she reached home.

On Tuesday, pilgrims struck rocks to try to improve their fortunes. When a rock is easily split, their wish will be soon fulfilled. If believers have more difficulty striking and splitting the rock, it will take more time.

“You can ask for a house, a car, all your wishes are fulfilled,” said believer Ricardo Tarqui. “I broke the rock with a second blow and in a third attempt. I have been able to buy a house and also a car.”

I realize that believers don't think about it this way, but from a technical perspective this practice is the same thing as a magical spell. It's not even slightly ambiguous, like prayer that is performed for purely devotional rather than practical reasons. Adherents engage in a specific activity associated with a particular spiritual entity in order to obtain specific advantages and possessions in the material world.

As for whether or not it works, I have no idea. Data is not the plural of anecdote. At the same time, all the elements are present for there to be a real paranormal effect going on, and my guess is that at least some practitioners do indeed benefit.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Angels of the Zodiac Presentation

This is a rough transcript of my presentation on the Angels of the Zodiac that I gave at Leaping Laughter Lodge in Minneapolis this last Saturday. A longer and more detailed treatment of this material can be found in the new limited edition anthology Liber Spirituum, currently available from Azoth Press.

Most of the attention of the Western magical tradition seems to be directed at the systems of the elements and planets. To some extent this has to do with how most schools and teachers structure the magical path. First, students learn to work with the elements during their “Outer Order” work, and then work with the planets to perform “Inner Order” operations. The signs of the Zodiac are attributed to the second sephira, Chockmah, and therefore from a sephirothic perspective represent a higher level system than the previous two.

However, in addition to this sephira, Liber 777 attributes the signs of the Zodiac to twelve of the twenty-two paths on the Tree of Life, and these attributions are used for practical Zodiacal magick. These operations are performed in a similar manner to the planetary work, and involve conjuring the appropriate angel by the appropriate divine name. In this form the signs represent forces of the natural world, and it is not necessary to have attained realization of Chockmah in order to work with them.

The terms “Angel” and “Demon” are thrown around a lot by organized Christianity, and they are generally defined in a simplistic manner. Angels are good, and Demons are evil. Obviously, though, this is little more than a value judgment than a technical distinction. In the real world, spirits may be classified as Celestial or Cthonic, according to their particular natures. Celestial spirits are attributed to sky and the stars, while Chthonic spirits are attributed to the earth and the underworld.

According to Christian dogma, Celestial spirits are good spirits called angels and work for God, and Chthonic spirits are evil spirits called Demons and work for Satan. The real spirit world is far less organized; you cannot determine how a spirit will be disposed towards you as a magician based solely on its sphere of influence. While it is true that in general, Cthonic spirits tend to be more hostile and Celestial spirits tend to be friendlier, the various spirits have individual personalities just like humans do. So there are plenty of hostile Celestials and friendly Cthonics.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Billions for Bigfoot?

In 2013, Bigfoot hunter Tom Biscardi founded a company called Bigfoot Project Investments (BGFT), dedicated to searching for the elusive cryptid. In order to raise money to fund various projects, he issued a stock offering this June for his company as a "pink sheets" firm. That is, he sold the stock over-the-counter on one of the country's least regulated markets. Then, about a week ago, the valuation of the company somehow soared to an astronomical ten billion dollars.

A $10 billion valuation puts Bigfoot on a par with Xerox, Discovery Communications and Gap — well-known companies with massive assets and popular products.

Bigfoot, by contrast, lists current assets of $221 in cash along with 73 original casts of Bigfoot footprints, a 109-inch skeleton and a rubber suit from a 2008 Bigfoot hoax. The filings helpfully explain that Bigfoot is known by 15 different names around the world, including Yeti in Tibet, Yowie in Australia and Hibagon in Japan.

In the "risk factors" section of the firm's SEC filings, the company discloses all the potential problems it could face, including problems relating to auditors, its burn rate, and potential future revenue issues. Nowhere does the company say that failing to find Bigfoot is a risk factor. In fact, Biscardi says the firm can make money even if Bigfoot is never actually located.

The firm lists Biscardi's salary at zero dollars: Bigfoot Project Investments is clearly a labor of love. The firm's market capitalization was so off target that even Biscardi — who owns more than 58 percent of the stock — was unaware of the listed market capitalization of the company when CNBC called him this week.

As it turns out, by Wednesday the ridiculously high stock price had disappeared. The SEC is still investigating, but it looks as if the valuation was based on some sort of computer error that affected the listed stock price. Once the error was corrected, it was gone. Biscardi, of course, was never actually able to claim his illusionary billions, but he plans to keep up the search regardless. He's not in it for the money, he's in it to prove the skeptics wrong.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

J. K. Rowling on Wands

Today the Guardian is reporting that J. K. Rowling has commented on an article from the Independent that claimed Richard Carter, the owner of a shop that sells wands for use in real magical rituals, said that he would refuse to sell wands to Harry Potter fans because his wands were not toys. Her response suggests that although she's made a fortune writing about magick, she doesn't have much respect for real magical spirituality.

As I mentioned in my post on the original article, I think it's a bit extreme to ban fans of certain books from your shop. But the thing is, that's apparently not what Carter said. He was misquoted, and was explaining that there's a difference between wands meant for magical practice and toys, and if a child wanted a toy, that's what he or she should buy.

On the other hand, it sounds like Rowling doesn't see the difference, because I guess she thinks magick - a discipline that I have dedicated the last thirty years of my life to practicing - is all made up.

The novelist tweeted a link to a story in the Independent about Richard Carter, owner of the shop Mystical Moments in Huddersfield. Carter, who supplies handmade wands, was quoted as saying that “Harry Potter is for children”, and that “if I had someone come in wanting a wand just because they liked Harry Potter I would not sell them one, no matter how much they were offering”.

“You wouldn’t believe how many real witches and wizards there are knocking about. You would be amazed,” he said. “They know they can come here and reveal themselves without people thinking they’re mental. I don’t have customers who have been Harry Potterfied.”

Rowling tweeted in response on Sunday: “Oh yeah? Well, I don’t think they’re real wands.” Her comment was liked by more than 15,000 people, but some criticised her on Twitter for making fun of pagan religions.

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling)
August 14, 2016

Oh yeah? Well, I don't think they're real wands.

The Sun reported he had banned Potter fans from his shop, but Carter told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner that his comments had been taken out of context.

“I said that if Harry Potter fans wanted a wand they should go on eBay because what they’re basically after is a toy. But I have not banned them from the shop,” he told the local paper. “I have nothing against Harry Potter and actually liked the films. The wands I make, though, whether you believe it or not, are real and spiritual. If a Harry Potter fan came to the shop, whether they would be able to buy a wand would depend on why they want one. If for a toy, then no, but if they had watched Harry Potter and been inspired to start their own spiritual journey, then yes.”